by Abta chief executive Mark Tanzer

Yesterday we kicked off the Travel Convention 2013 in the stunning surroundings of Dubrovnik, Croatia. As well as looking forward to good debate and discussions the Convention is always an opportunity to reflect on what has happened in the industry and at Abta in the past twelve months.

Looking back over the last year its striking just how broad the issues are that Abta now helps its members with.

The past twelve months have seen a slight improvement in the economy, but conditions remain challenging and we have yet to see an increase in the number of holidays people are taking.

It’s therefore particularly pleasing that the combined figure for turnover of our membership – £31.5bn of annual travel spend – is at its highest ever level.   In recent months we’ve also welcomed healthy numbers of new members, including those from the cruise and coach sectors, as more travel businesses recognise the value of Abta membership.

One of the most challenging issues the industry has faced over the past twelve months has been the political unrest in Egypt and its impact on tourism. We have supported our members through this, whether through our media work, handling a high volume of calls to our consumer helpline or through our work with members and the Foreign Office to provide up to the minute advice on a rapidly evolving situation.

The problems Egypt has experienced show just how important it is for the industry to work together and also brings home the fact that many popular tourist destinations are in countries with political, economic or social challenges. How to manage tourism in these kinds of destinations is something we will be discussing in one of our Convention panel sessions.

The Abta badge is very important for our members and we have conducted a number of marketing initiatives during the year to improve understanding of the Abta consumer offer. 

I’m pleased to report that the latest research shows more than seven in ten consumers now see Abta membership as essential or important when booking their holiday (up from 68% last year) and there are notable improvements in consumer understanding of the range of benefits booking with an Abta member delivers (for example, our dispute settling scheme; setting standards in the industry).

Last year, the Package Travel Directive (PTD) was very much the dominant policy topic being debated in and around the Convention. At the time, much of the debate was based on speculation as to what would be included in a revised PTD. 

A year on and we have a much clearer view of how the proposed changes to the PTD will affect the industry and the issues on which we can influence policymakers in Brussels. Abta has undertaken extensive member consultation on the proposals and we are working hard to lobby Brussels and the UK government to ensure the best possible outcome for members and consumers.

The last year has also seen us make strides in guiding members through sustainability. Sustainability is no longer just about energy and water usage, it now encompasses a range of areas which attract public and media scrutiny – from human rights to working conditions to animal welfare. 

As an association it is vital that we lead the industry in supporting responsible tourism.

The Travel Convention also marks the time of the year when we reveal the results of our annual Consumer Trends Survey and discuss the latest trends driving consumer demand. For those unable to attend I advise you to look out for our new Consumer Holiday Trends report which will be made available online later today. This will contain lots of insights into how and what consumers are booking.

On top of all the above we have been busy providing members with day-to-day business support, legal advice and help with financial protection and bonding.

When looking back over the last year there really is a huge range of issues that Abta supports its members on. I am personally keen we continue to develop our services, helping our members anticipate future challenges and securing a healthy future for their businesses.